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[Pages 317-339]

Torah, Trade and Crafts in Sokoly

by Michael Maik

The Rabbis in Sokoly

As far as I remember, the first rabbi was the genius Rabbi Menachem Yonah, of blessed and saintly memory. Rabbi Menachem Yonah passed away fifty years ago. For two years, until a new rabbi was accepted, Yaakov Hirsch Blumowitz, from Jedwabne, served in Sokoly as the community instructor and teacher. He was a knowledgeable and sharp scholar, righteous and humble.

Two years later, the genius Rabbi Avraham Halevi Epstein was accepted as the Rabbi of Sokoly. Rabbi Epstein was a descendant of a family of brilliant rabbis, and one of the best preachers. Before he was accepted as the Rabbi, there were dozens of candidates for the position, among them well-known men such as the Rabbi from Stavisk; the Rabbi from Kruzov, who was famous for performing miracles, as well as the brilliant Rabbi Yaakov David, the Rabbi from Slutsk, who wrote a commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud. He was willing to manage the rabbinate in Sokoly for a number of years, under the condition that afterwards his young son-in-law would fill the position. But Rabbi Avraham Halevi Epstein was beloved by the masses because of his talent for public speaking, and he was accepted for the position.


Rebbitzen Sarah Epstein, of blessed memory
Rabbi Avraham Halevi Epstein, of blessed and saintly memory
Rebbitzen Sarah Epstein,
of blessed memorya
  Rabbi Avraham Halevi Epstein,
of blessed and saintly memory


Rabbi Epstein had two sons from his first wife, and two from his second wife, Dov and Yisrael, and three daughters: Ettel, Chana and Suly. All his sons and daughters settled, over time, in America.

The Rabbi's son Yisrael was a genius, but after he learned for a short time in the Lida Yeshiva, he began to devote himself to a secular education. He became a teacher in one of the towns in Lithuania, and finally settled in the U.S.

Rabbi Epstein suffered in his later years from problems with his feet, and he was unable to walk. When he saw that he was no longer able to manage the rabbinate, he gave the heads of the community permission to accept a new rabbi, under the condition that they would divide the salary equally between the two rabbis. A few years before Rabbi Epstein passed away, a new rabbi was accepted in Sokoly: Rabbi Yosef Rosenblum, of blessed memory.

Rabbi Epstein passed away in 1940, during the Soviet occupation. The new rabbi, Rabbi Yosef Rosenblum, was a scholar and modern preacher. He drew a large crowd to his sermons, including the youths who had a secular education. He was an excellent speaker, and excelled in his logical ideas. He was able to explain, in a language full of literary expressions. He also knew how to explain complicated ideas in common language.

Sokoly produced many famous rabbis and geniuses. The rabbis from Sokoly whom I knew were the Rabbi of Cziechunonovechie [?], who was known as Rabbi Yehudel Menashe; the two sons of Zundel Segal, Rabbi Yaakov Zvi and Rabbi Shalom Yitzchak; Rabbi Yaakov Semieticzky, the son of Zvi Aharon Yonah; Rabbi Yeshayahu Weinkrantz, the son of Barush the shub; Rabbi Mordechai, the son of Eliyahu Hasultim, who was the rabbi of the town Baltawa; the Rabbi of Lomzitza, Rabbi Mordechai, the son of Shimon Wolf and the son-in-law of Shmuel, the shub from Tiktin; the Rabbi of Kuzelozeczina near Slonim, Rabbi Yaakov Goldberg, the son of Yisrael the blacksmith, who was a famous genius, sharp and knowledgeable in Talmud, the best student in the Klotzk Yeshiva, which was famous in its day; all of them of blessed memory.

Avrahamche, the son of Mendel Pachiner (in his youth, he was called “the angel”), was the best student of Leibel Hillels, and when he later entered the famous yeshiva of the brilliant genius Rabbi Avrahamel Sieciechover, he was among the best students. An ordinary student was not able to understand the lectures given by Rabbi Avrahamel. Avrahamche Pachiner instructed his younger brother, Yitzchak Meir, who later became one of the famous rabbis of Israel. Avrahamche did not want to accept a position in the rabbinate. Apparently, he held to our sages' motto: “Don't exploit the Torah as an axe to dig with”!

Mendel Pachiner's second son, Yitzchak Meir, of blessed memory, learned in the yeshiva of Radun, under the leadership of the generation's righteous genius, the Chafetz Chaim, before World War I. Yitzchak Meir was already renowned at that time as a genius, and they called him “the genius from Sokoly”. Yitzchak Meir was of short stature and appeared to be younger than he really was, this is why the public was so amazed by him. When World War I broke out in 1914, Yitzchak Meir returned home to Sokoly from the yeshiva, and he remained there until 1920.

In Sokoly, Yitzchak Meir began to read secular books, mostly books of science and philosophy. He also learned foreign languages. In 1920, it was possible to cross the border from our area into Lithuania and reach the capital city, Kovno. At that time, there was a rumor among the young people that from Lithuania it was easy to immigrate to America and the Land of Israel. Also in Lithuania, there began at that time a golden era for the Jewish youth. A few young men from Sokoly decided to cross the border, and Yitzchak Meir was among them. In Kovno, he entered the Slobodka Yeshiva, which moved at that time to the Land of Israel. Yitzchak Meir quickly became famous among the rabbis in Israel, and the Jerusalem Gaon, Rabbi Issur Zalman Meltzer, who was the head of the Yeshiva of Slobodka and Slutsk, found him to be a suitable husband for his daughter. Yitzchak Meir was accepted initially as the Rabbi of Petach Tikva, and afterwards he was chosen to be a member of the High Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem. Rabbi Yitzchak Meir wrote books with commentaries and explanations of the Rambam's Yad Hachazaka, entitled “The King's Commentary,” comprising two sections in large format, which won the Rabbi Kook Prize. His books were accepted in the yeshivot as classics. Rabbi Yitzchak Meir passed away at the age of 62.

Rabbi Kalman Novak, who was known as Rabbi Kalman Zelig Pinsky, arrived at the Montreux Yeshiva in Switzerland. After that, he moved to England, where he married the daughter of Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian, who was known as the Rosh Yeshiva of Kelme. Rabbi Kalman Pinsky was given a rabbinic position in England. He later came on aliya to the Land of Israel with his family, where he served as a rabbi and secretary at the Kaminetz Yeshiva.

Two Rabbis from Sokoly emigrated to America: Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Dachovitz and Rabbi Aharon Reuven Charney, of blessed memory.


Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Dachovitz

Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Dachovitz was born in Sokoly in 1885. In his childhood, he learned in the Bialystok Yeshiva of Rabbi Pinchas, of blessed memory, which was famous at that time. After that, he moved to the Chafetz Chaim's famous Radun Yeshiva. In his youth, he was known as a genius. He learned in the yeshivot of Nowogrodek, Slutsk, and Kuranec [Belarus] and was known as a great Torah scholar in all them. At the age of 17, he was ordained as a rabbi by the brilliant Rabbis Yosef Zundel Meltzer of Slutsk and Rabbi Yaakov Borochov of Vilkaviskis [Lithuania].


Rabbi Zvi Dachovitz
Rabbi Zvi Dachovitz, z”l
of blessed memory]


After that, he learned for a few years in the famous Kollel of the VolozhinYeshiva. In 1906, he married Leah Devorah, the daughter of Eliyahu Moshe Shechter from Vilna, who gave his son-in-law the possibility of dedicating his time to learning Torah. Rabbi Dachovitz quickly became famous, not only as a great scholar of Torah, but also as an excellent sermonizer and preacher. With the support of the great genius Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky, of blessed saintly memory, Rabbi Dachovitz was appointed as a teacher in Vilna. After that, Rabbi Dachovitz served for a few years as the Rabbi of Varnain, in the Vilna province.

In 1922, on the advice of the Chafetz Chaim, Rabbi Dachovitz went to New York to assist in congregational matters. There, he gave a speech in the large synagogue of Agudas Achim Anshei Lubavitch in Brownsville, Brooklyn. They immediately offered him a rabbinical contract and he accepted the position, which he held for 32 years as their spiritual leader. Rabbi Dachovitz was also crowned with the position of Vice President of the Rabbinical Council of the U.S. and Canada, as well as that of Chairman of the Rabbinical Committee of Greater New York. Rabbi Dachovitz was a stauch fighter for Orthodox matters in all his high positions in the rabbinical world. He was the first of the speakers on all the various committees. He moved worlds with his power of speech, and inflamed public opinion regarding desecration of the honor of Torah and belittlement of the importance of the rabbis. His speeches were well planned and made an impression.

A chapter in itself is Rabbi Dachovitz' struggle regarding kashrut. He was one of the most active leaders of the Kashrut Committee of Greater New York. Rabbi Dachovitz also acted to support Torah scholars. For 30 years, he devoted his time and energy to operations for benefitting the Ezrat Torah institutions for Torah scholars all over the world. For many years, Rabbi Dachovitz was the Vice President of this institution. He was no less interested in his personal home. He had already established good will with respect to his support and help of Jews in their time of need. His home was run according to the characteristics of Our Father Abraham, open to the poor and needy. Rebbitzen Leah Devorah always helped him in his charitable deeds and in welcoming guests, and she also acquired a name for herself. Rabbi Yaakov, the son of Pesach Brill, stayed at Rabbi Dachovitz' home for a year and a half.

Rabbi Zvi Dachovitz pursued peace. His influence was great, not only upon the simple folk, but also on his colleagues, the rabbis. When Rabbi Zvi Dachovitz was in the Vilna region in his youth, he participated in all the meetings of the rabbis, even the meetings of the famous brilliant rabbis of the time, and he was always the chairman or first to speak, and everyone appreciated him. He was wise and intelligent, and he understood people.

During World War I, Rabbi Zvi Dachovitz donated from his salary to the members of his congregation. He was concerned that every member would have food, clothing, shoes and all the necessities.

Thanks to his energy and blessed activities, Rabbi Zvi Dachovitz succeeded in acquiring more social assistance for the members of his congregation during the problematic years of World War I, from the American institution “Yakupa” than was given to other cities in the district. Rabbi Dachovitz had a superior talent for mediating between parties in complicated disputes and lawsuits. More than once, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Dachovitz was invited by large merchants, residents of the Csarist capital St. Petersburg, to come there especially to mediate in a very complicated, difficult dispute.

Rabbi Zvi Dachovitz wrote a few books of commentary, full of original, deep and sharp new Torah ideas. He was blessed with exemplary sons and daughters: His eldest son, Rabbi Aharon Dov, received ordination like his father in his youth, at the age of 17, and at the same time he was certified as a lawyer. He now serves in the Tiferet Torah synagogue in Bensonhurst, and simultaneously works as a lawyer, a member of the Bar Association and the treasurer of the Rabbinical Association of the U.S. and Canada. The second son, Rabbi Pinchas, was ordained by the Yitzchak Elchanan Yeshiva and is a graduate of Yeshiva University. He serves as the Rabbi of Knesset Bnei Yisrael in Mitwood, Brooklyn. The third son, Ze'ev, is a shub. His other sons, Shmuel and Zalman Shlomo, completed their learning at Yeshiva Torah V'Daas in Brooklyn. His sons-in-law, the husbands of his daughters Esther and Riva, also are famous rabbis. The third son-in-law, the husband of his daughter Malka, is a U.S. government official.

On the 9th of Kislev, 5714 [November 16, 1953], Rabbi Zvi Dachovitz gave a eulogy for a righteous man from Bnei Brak in the Great Beit Midrash in New York. On the 10th of Kislev, 5714 [November 17, 1953], in the evening, when he returned from a gemara lesson, he had a heart attack and he returned his soul to the Creator. It is interesting that on that same day, 10th of Kislev 5714, in Jerusalem, the brilliant Rabbi Issur Zalman Meltzer of Slutsk also passed away.

Over 10,000 people, from all walks of life and from all persuasions, including all the rabbis in New York, among them Rabbi Aharon Kotler, participated in Rabbi Dachovitz' funeral. The English newspapers, such as the New York Times and Herald Tribune, and the Yiddish papers Morgen Journal and Forward, dedicated many articles to the great loss, to the passing of Rabbi Dachovitz on the 10th of Kislev. The great spiritual candle that had been lit 69 years earlier in our town Sokoly was extinguished, and the light and comfort he had brought to tens of thousands of Jewish families has departed. Nevertheless, to this very day countless souls still remember with love the name of this brilliant, G-d fearing man, the greatest of his generation. May his soul be bound in eternal life.


Rabbi Aharon Reuven Charney

In our town, when he was a child, they called him “Zeidel Braynches.” Rabbi Aharon Reuven Charney is now one of the most well-known, praiseworthy rabbis in America, both because of his great expertise in Talmud and the early and later commentaries, and because of his broad knowledge of various branches of science, as well as his power of speaking. In his childhood, everyone who knew him wondered at his brilliant talents, his quick and sharp understanding, and his phenomenal memory. He did whatever he decided to do. He decided to learn Yoreh Deah and commentaries. After a short time, he was ordained as a rabbi. A short time after he began reading books of sermons, he became a wonderful rabbinic preacher.

When he was still a youth aged 17, Rabbi Zeidel Charney gave a two-hour sermon in the large bet medrash in Sokoly. In a clear voice, in beautiful flowery language, with descriptions of pictures and drawings, he presented the elevated, ideal spiritual image of Rachel, the daughter of Kalba Savua, who grew up and was educated with pleasures and luxuries in a wealthy Jerusalem household. In spite of everything, Rachel was prepared to leave her parents' wealthy home with all its comforts, to sleep on straw in a barn and suffer want and deprivation, in order that the shepherd Akiva, in whom she detected great spiritual talent, would grow into a star who would light up the entire world with his wisdom.

Before World War I, Rabbi Zeidel received a rabbinical position in London. During the years of the War, when the Germans bombed and destroyed London, Rabbi Zeidel received a rabbinical position in the city of Birmingham, England. Later, about 35 years ago, Rabbi Zeidel arrived in the U.S. At first he held a rabbinical position in Revere, Massachusetts, near Boston, and later he was given a position in Bayonne, New Jersey, where he served more than 30 years as the spiritual leader of the United Synagogues. Rabbi Charney was also appointed, over 30 years ago, as a chaplain in the American army.

Rabbi Charney's wife, Miriam, was a woman of valor, fluent in the Hebrew language, busy with community affairs and was involved in religious education and instructing the younger generation. Rabbi Charney was blessed with two sons and three daughters. All his children received a religious Jewish education and went to college.

Rabbi Charney's eldest daughter, Bruria Carla, is a graduate of New York University and an educational college. Her husband, Mordechai, learned at the Yitzchak Elchanan Yeshiva and also obtained a secular education. He is an expert in matters of commerce.

Rabbi Charney's son Zeev was educated at the Yitzchak Elchanan Yeshiva and is a graduate of Harvard Law School. Zeev's wife, Riva Devora, was an artist.

Rabbi Charney's second son, Chaim Eliezer, serves as a Rabbi in Chicago.

Rav Zeidel, or, as he is called in America, Rabbi Aharon Charney, has to date written the following books:

  1. Sermons from Life and Nature (2 volumes)
  2. Grandfather's Visions (meanwhile, only Part 1 has been published, 270 pages)
  3. Imbued with Love
  4. Book of Defense (2 volumes)
It appears from his books that Rabbi Charney was blessed with a sense of deep understanding of the soul of Man, and that he was very familiar with the American way of life and the condition of Judaism there, with all its problems. In his books, quotations are brought from the greatest researchers and philosophers. The book Imbued with Love includes sermons and speeches that the Rabbi gave at various wedding and engagement celebrations. The book has 300 pages and discusses the problem of love and happy family life. The Rabbi counts the different causes that interfere with and destroy peace in the home and family. He advises how to improve, enhance and straighten out the difficulties in family life. The Book of Defense (2 Volumes) contains sermons and speeches that the Rabbi gave as eulogies at funerals, memorials and dedications of monuments to the departed. The books are written in clear, simple Hebrew, and are understandable to everyone.

Rabbi Charney was a wonderful, brilliant person, and the people of our town Sokoly can be proud of him. He passed away three years ago. May his memory be for a blessing.


Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Brill, of Blessed Memory

Avraham Yaakov Brill [son of Pesach Brill] was already known to be a genius in his youth. When he was 18 years old, he already was familiar with Talmud and the commentaries, and his memory was phenomenal. It is told that when he was a lad of 16, he had memorized the entire Bible (Tanach). When I was a boy, my grandfather told me a story about the genius Avraham Yaakov Brill. According to Jewish legend, when a fetus is in his mother's womb, an angel teaches him the entire Torah, and when he is born and comes out into the world, the angel taps him beneath his nose, and thereby the infant forgets all he had learned. In the case of Avraham Yaakov, the angel forgot to tap him, and therefore he immediately knew the entire Torah.

Avraham Yaakov Brill was expert not only in Talmud, but also in various branches of science, such as geography, history, statistics, and in remembering dates. His expertise was for the sake of knowledge. He was nicely familiar with algebra and engineering, even though he never formally learned these subjects from textbooks.

During the years of his youth, there were a number of students in Sokoly, such as Rafael Gutman, the son of Herzl, Rabbi Menachem Yonah's grandson. Over time, Rafael became the manager of the Warsaw Community Education Department and wrote a few textbooks, such as “Bible Stories” in the Hebrew and Polish languages. In addition to Rafael, other students in Sokoly were Yaakov Yanovsky and Leibel Semieticzky, the son of Hershel Aharon Yonhas. There were educated people there who had learned externally, and among them was the teacher Meckleshtzil, who was a very sharp mathematician. When all these students would come home to their parents for their vacations or holidays, they would meet in the hall next to the new synagogue, where the genius Abraham Yaakov would sit and learn, memorizing texts in his pleasant chant.The students would surround the genius and ask him complicated questions in mathematics. Avraham Yaakov would solve all the problems orally, without a problem and without having to write them down.

Avraham Yaakov Brill was the son-in-law of the brilliant, famous Lithuanian Rabbi Itchele Ponevezher. He could have received rabbinic positions in the large cities, due to his brilliancy and the fact that he was Rabbi Itchele's son-in-law, but the genius preferred to deal in trade and not to turn the Torah into an axe for digging. He managed large businesses.

During Kransky's time, Avraham Yaakov Brill was in Leningrad, where he managed important businesses, but after the Bolshevik Revolution, he lost all his money to nationalization. He returned, naked and with nothing, to Poland. Over time, thanks to the efforts of Rabbi Zvi Dachovitz from our town, Avraham Yaakov Brill was offered a rabbinical position in a synagogue in New York, Anshei Lubavitch in Brownsville, where he served until his last days. He passed away in the prime of his life, after World War II.


Images of the Shochtim [Ritual Slaughterers] in Sokoly

I wish to tell about the shochtim during the period of the last 60 years in Sokoly. They are Avraham Yitzchak and his son-in-law Shmuel Leib Lev, Barish Weinkrantz, and two others who were chazanim and shochtim: Mordechai Wigodsky and Mordechai Bodnowsky.

Avraham Yitzchak was a pleasant leader of the mussaf service on the High Holidays, besides being a shochet. He always prayed with the accompaniment of a choir of singers. One of his best singers was the son of the teacher Tuvia Zvi, who had a beautiful tenor voice. Avraham Yitzchak led the prayers in the large bet medrash. When he and his choir led the prayers, congregants from the new bet medrash, the synagogue and the other minyanim all streamed to hear them.

Avraham Yitzchak's Lamnatzeach prayer, from the first slichot, is engraved in my memory. All the people of the town, great and small, would stream on the Sabbath after the “third meal” [seudat shlisheet] to the large bet medrash to enjoy hearing it. The bet medrash and the women's section were full from one end to the other. Avraham Yitzchak, with his choir of singers, went up on the platform. Silence and tense expectation filled the bet medrash; holiness filled every corner. The crowd was engulfed by reverence and a spiritual uplifting. They heard, with great admiration, the heart-felt singing of Avraham Yitzchak and his choir.

Avraham Yitzchak's first son-in-law was Shmuel Rogowitz, one of Sokoly's sharp and fluent Torah scholars. In his later years, his eyesight dimmed, and he was unable to study the pages of the gemara. In spite of this, he would always sit among members of the gemara study group and learn the daily page with them. He was familiar with all the discussions in the gemara and would discuss and explain them with the others.

Avraham Yitzchak's second son-in-law was Shmuel Leib the shochet. He was a Torah scholar, a preacher and was knowledgeable in the art of ritual slaughter of animals.

Avraham Yitzchak had a son named Chanoch. He was a scholar and loved to tell jokes, witticisms, aphorisms and sayings of our Sages.

When Avraham Yitzchak the shochet passed away, Sokoly felt the loss of a leader for the Mussaf prayers on the High Holidays, even though they were able to manage with the two shochtim Shmuel Leib and Barish. So then, Berke from Zabludow was accepted as a chazan in Sokoly. He was already an old man, but he still prayed very beautifully and the congregation was pleased.

When the chazan Berke passed away and Barish the shochet was feeling weak, Sokoly began to look for a chazan and shochet. Mordechai Wigodsky was accepted for this position. He was a cheerful man, who was integrated in the community. He knew how to spread jokes and witticisms and to sing folk songs and Chassidic melodies. When a wedding, a circumcision or any other celebration took place in Sokoly, the chazan Mordechai Wigodsky would entertain the guests. Crowds of children and women would surround the house and look through the windows and the open doors, enjoying his jokes and songs.

After some time – not long – the chazan Mordechai Wigodsky moved to a large city, and then another chazan-shochet came to Sokoly, by the name of Mordechai Bodnowsky. He was also a mohel and used modern tools. He did not have a happy nature like the previous chazan, but nevertheless he was a first class chazan and was able to compete with those who were famous. They tried more than once to invite him to come to the big cities, but in Sokoly they increased his salary and didn't allow him to leave. Two years before the outbreak of World War II, the chazan Bodnowsky emigrated to America.

Barish Weinkrantz, the shochet was one of the exceptional individuals in his profession. He was also an excellent and expert mohel, a pleasant leader of the High Holiday prayers and a good reader of the Torah. Outside of these attributes, Barish was blessed with good characteristics. He was intelligent, pleasant and comfortable with his fellows, loving and friendly to everyone. All the people of the town loved him, and he was interested in everybody. He spoke to everyone with warmth and friendliness, and everyone found a faithful friend in him. The butchers, with whom Barish came in contact, loved and respected him.

When he was already at an advanced age, Barish was still circumcising dozens of babies with wonderful speed. Apart from all these, Barish told good stories and Torah sayings of the Sages. At circumcisions, weddings, and other celebrations, Barish was like an overflowing fountain and the chief speaker. One could listen to him with complete enjoyment for days and nights. He always had something interesting to tell, and his audience listened to him with special attention. Barish had only to appear somewhere, and the house would immediately be filled with happiness. During his last years, when he was partially paralyzed, he wished to talk with people. When someone would come to his house, Barish invited him to come into his room and sit near his bed. He would begin an interesting conversation, and by doing so, he forgot his sufferings. Barish passed away at the ripe old age of close to 100, before World War II. He left sons from his three wives.

With his first wife, Barish had one son and two daughters. His son Yeshaya was a rabbi in a small town in Lithuania. One of his daughters married Leibel the shochet, the son of Zelig the shamash in the Rabbinical Court and who was also a bookbinder on the side. At first, he was a shochet in Lapy, where he became famous in the art of ritual slaughter. Some time later, he moved from Lapy to Lomza. The shub Leibel ben Zelig had a brilliant son, who quickly became famous among the rabbis. Barish's second daughter married the widower Avraham Moshe Rachelsky in Sokoly. He was an established, successful crop trader.

From his second wife, Barish the shochet had four children. Two of them married in small towns in the vicinity of Warsaw. One of them, Shmuel, was a singer in his father's choir when he was young. He had a pleasant alto voice. Barish's other two children from his second wife were twins: a son Yerachmiel, and a daughter Chana. Yerachmiel was a polished, fluent speaker. He told good jokes and quoted sayings of the Sages, and things he heard from his father. Yerachmiel was married in Wysokie-Mazowiecki, where he worked as a painter. He was regarded as an important member of the congregation and was influential in communal matters.

After the German troops overran Wysokie-Mazowiekie in 1939, almost the entire city was burned down. Yerachmiel and his large family arrived in Sokoly, where he continued to work as a painter. His children, two sons and a daughter, dealt in trade and profiteering, which were acceptable during the Soviet occupation.

From his third wife, Barish had two daughters and a son named Eliya. Eliya married Soraka, the daughter of the butcher Leibel Palitzer, and he also worked in his father-in-law's profession. He was known as a Torah scholar.

For his older daughter Tzippa, Barish chose a bridegroom by the name of Leibel Chayat, an educated boy who was a shochet and chazan. Barish estimated that his new son-in-law would be worthy of taking over his position as a chazan and shochet in Sokoly, but the young people did not remain there for very long; they emigrated to America.

Barish's younger daughter Chaya was still unmarried at that time. She was a talented, intelligent girl in every respect. She remained with her father. In the end, she was murdered with most of the Jewish residents of Sokoly.

Sixty years ago, there was a shamash in the large bet medrash named Chaikel Koppel. After Chaikel, the shamash in the large bet medrash was his son, Moshe Koppel, who was a great sage. He also managed businesses on the side. He bought a mill for grinding flour for matzos, a mangle for ironing laundry, and an oven for baking bread, rolls and cakes. Moshe Koppel's customs were engraved deeply in the memories of the people of Sokoly. He would call out in song to the people to come to the synagogue.


Moshe Koppel with his wife and daughters
Moshe Koppel with his wife and daughters


Every Sabbath eve, half an hour before candle-lighting, Moshe Koppel would go from street to street, and at the top of each street he would stand and announce, in his pleasant voice: “To the synagogue!” On Sabbath nights, at 3:30 in the morning, he would stand in front of each house and call, in singsong: “Feivel, Berel, Moshe, Yankel, Shmuel, get up for Psalms! It's already 3:30!” During the days when slichot is said, Moshe Koppel would go with a hammer in his hand and knock twice with the hammer on the shutters of the windows in order to awaken the congregation for slichot.

After Moshe Koppel, the position of shamash in the large bet medrash Sokoly was given to his son-in-law Simcha, who was a very religious yeshiva student and scholar, but he was a [physically] weak person. He remained in his position in Sokoly until the [Jews of the] town were wiped out.


Shmuel Kravchevitz and his family
Shmuel Kravchevitz and his family


Zvi Dor (Hirsch Ber) Shapira, may G-d avenge his blood
Ganendel Shapira and her grandson, Menachem Ellenberg
Zvi Dor (Hirsch Ber) Shapira,
may G-d avenge his blood
  Ganendel Shapira and her grandson,
Menachem Ellenberg


In the new bet medrash, the shamash was Shmuel Kravchevitz, the father of the tailor Shlomo Mas. Shmuel Kravchevitz was also a gravedigger in the cemetery. After Shmuel Kravchevitz died of cancer, the shamash in the new bet medrash was Baruch Ellenberg, Yisrael Meir Shapira's son-in-law. Baruch also served as the shamash in the Rabbinical Court. Yisrael Meir Shapira was a Gerrer Chassid and scholar. His wife was known as “Ganendel the barmaid.” She was a very talented woman. Yisrael Meir Shapira had children with exceptional talents: Yankel, Yossel, Hirsh, Berel and Gedalyahu. Hirsh Ber Shapira was burned to death by the Nazis, may their names be blotted out, with his wife and daughter in the Bialystok synagogue. Gedalyahu Shapira emigrated before the War to America. The rest of his brothers were murdered by the Nazis, together with their families.

After Shmuel Kravchevitz, the gravedigger was Itsche Zlotko, who was also a shamash in the synagogue. Itsche Zlotko suffered from asthma. After Itsche Zlotko, the shamash in the synagogue and gravedigger was Benyamin Okune, the son of Masha'le and son-in-law of the teacher Yossel Yankel Spector.


Torah Teachers in Sokoly

Among the teachers of beginning pupils in Sokoly, I well remember Hershel Zusel Spector and his sons Yosef Yaakov and Mordechai Shmuel. Mordechai Shmuel had no children until he was 60 years old. After his first wife, Fredka, passed away, he took a second wife, a young woman who bore him twins, a son and a daughter. The daughter did not live for very long, but the son, whose name was Hershel, grew nicely. He was intelligent and talented. At the time the Jews were driven out of Sokoly, he was five years old.

There was another teacher of beginning pupils in Sokoly, and his name was Tuvia Hershel son of Natan.

Here is a list of teachers of Torah, the Prophets and the Writings (Tanach):

Mordechai Shlomo Blaustein (Rabinek); Chaim HaMelamed [the teacher]; Henich from Vilkaviskis [Lithuania] (the son-in-law of Zelig, the shamash of the Rabbinical Court).

Henich had two sons who were intellectuals: Chaim Leibel and Fishel.

Chaim Leibel had a very beautiful handwriting, and had a reputation as a great scribe. He emigrated to America, where he went by the name of Hyman Rosen. Over time, he was appointed secretary of the “Sokoly Relief” in Chicago, and became involved in public affairs.

Henich's second son, Fishel, remained in Poland. He was among the victims of the Nazis.


Chaim Leibel Rosen and his wife
Chaim Leibel Rosen and his wife
Former secretary of the Sokoly organization in Chicago


A good teacher of the subject of Tanach was Mordechai, the shamash of the new bet medrash. His “cheder” was located in the bet medrash's guest house. He accompanied his lessons with a special tune, reading each verse in a loud voice, and his pupils repeated the verses in the same tune. He was an exacting teacher, but he did not punish his pupils with a whip as did the teachers Rabinek and Mavelkvisk. Nevertheless, his pupils trembled at his serious, critical glance. Mordechai was a proud man, of pleasant appearance, with a rounded beard.

At celebratory events in Sokoly, such as the dedication of a Torah scroll, Mordechai the shamash would wear the costume of a general in the Czar's army, decorated with colorful stripes and gilt shoulder insignia. Thus, he appeared as a greatly respected, elegant conquering general. Of course, it was not proper for a “field marshal” such as himself to walk. He rode a stallion with a decorated saddle, and sent kind glances toward his “subjects,” who humbled themselves before him in submission. The youths marched in the parade, carrying dozens of torches. After them came Chaim Pompuch on his horse, doing various acrobatic tricks. In his left hand, he held a burning torch, and in his right, a bottle of kerosene. From time to time he would take a sip from the bottle and spit toward the torch. The sprayed kerosene ignited in the air in picturesque lines, just like fireworks. The Torah scroll was carried under a canopy. In front of it marched a band of musicians playing happy dance music.

All Mordechai's children emigrated to America. From there, they sent their father substantial amounts of money. He built himself a two-story house with porches in Sokoly. In the end, he joined his children, who prospered in the new world.

Among the teachers of Torah, Rashi [his commentaries], and Na”ch [Prophets and Writings], there should be mentioned Tuvia Zvi Kaplan and Yisrael Hirshman, whose wife owned a bakery; Dudel from Bialystok ,and Mordechai, who also taught in the “Talmud Torah.”

Tuvia Zvi's oldest son was a singer in the choir of Avraham Yitzchak the shochet. He had a very beautiful tenor voice. Tuvia's younger son, Shmulke, was a tailor.

Among the gemara teachers, we must mention Benyamin Rabinowitz, who was regarded in the congregation as a righteous Kabbalist. His oldest daughter, [Sarah Miriam] married Shlomke Olsha. His other daughter, Musha, married Cycowicz, the wine merchant, from Bialystok. Benyamin's son, Shlomo dealt in engraving stamps and eventually made aliya to the Land of Israel. He wanted to learn at the Bezalel School of Art in Jerusalem.

Another gemara teacher was Itze Meir Golda. His two sons emigrated to the U.S., but Itze Meir himself decided to make aliya. In the end, the sons agreed to accept their father's wishes and they decided to support him when he would reach the Land of Israel with the rest of the family.

Still another gemara teacher was Leibel Dombrover, whom I mentioned above. Also Avraham Chaim Pilchowitz from Siemiatycze was not a bad teacher.

The next gemara teacher on the list was Reb Avraham, the son of Esther Rachel, who took it upon himself to be the one to call out “Amen” so as to encourage others in the congregation to do the same.

For a period of time, Avraham Yaakov Kenigsberg worked as a teacher in Sokoly. He had two daughters: Chana Raizel and Gittele, and four sons: Leibel, Gedalya, Mendel and Hershel. Leibel was active in public affairs. Some time before the War broke out, he emigrated to the U.S. where he continued to work for the public. Mendel, Hershel and Gittele live in Israel. Chana Raizel was murdered in the Holocaust. Gedalya did not return from Russia, and nothing is known regarding his fate.

Leibel Hillels was a most serious gemara teacher. The graduates of his cheder were very advanced and were able to teach gemara to others. A few of them continued to learn in famous yeshivot in Poland and Lithuania.

There were more Torah teachers, who temporarily taught a number of students for a few hours a day, such as Motele Lev and Yitzchak Morashkevitz, who owned a store selling steel products.


Kenigsberg Family
Kenigsberg Family

Top row,(from left to right): Mendel Kenigsberg and his wife Sarah, Rosa and Leibel Kenigsberg, Gitta Kremlowsky with her daughter Shoshana and her husband David
Bottom row (from left to right): Miriam Kenigsberg, Pia Kremlowsky, and Avraham Kenigsberg


Yitzchak was regarded as a learned Jew. He owned a number of houses, granaries and stables. He passed away at the age of 50, leaving six sons and one daughter, Rashka, who was married to Motele. Four of Yitzchak's sons emigrated to the U.S. They are Benyaminke, Moshe, Shlomo and Shalom Yankel. A fifth son, Yisrael, owned a grocery store in Bialystok, and a sixth son, Katzkel, remained in Sokoly, where he inherited his parents' property.

To the list of temporary Torah teachers, we must add Moshe Yosef's son-in-law, Zalman David Zhelazo, a righteous fellow, the bridegroom of the widow Leah; Alter Novak; and Yaakov Meir HaMelamed.

Yaakov Meir did not have children with his first wife, the daughter of Feivel Nuvin, and the people of Sokoly called him “bodzetnik” (childless). He remained so until the age of 50. After his wife died, he married Mattel, the daughter of Hershel Kalman, and they had three successful children, a son and two daughters. His son, Hershel, learned in a yeshiva and later became a merchant. The two daughters were beauties.


Teachers in Sokoly

As I remember, among the first teachers was Zelig Sorasky, the son of Nechemia the blacksmith. He was intelligent and knew Torah. He loved to solve problems in various fields of science. He delved into the depths of psychology, philosophy, natural science, and argued on sociological issues. In his talks, he “proved” and presented facts regarding every phenomenon; he used formulas and everything so as not to leave any doubts with his opponents.

Zelig the teacher had children from both of his wives. His sons were carpenters, and all them emigrated to Latin America, while his daughters left for the Land of Israel.

Among his daughters, Feigel Sorasky was outstanding in the extent of her knowledge and her talent for speaking. In Sokoly, she was a counselor for a group in “HaShomer HaLeumi.” She also tutored students in the elementary school.

Mottel Shafran, the watchmaker, was another teacher. They called him “Leah's Mottel,” in the name of his mother-in-law.
Leah'che's other son-in-law was Benyamin from Bzhisk [Nowe Brzesko], a Jewish landowner. Benyamin hired special teachers to teach his children, as well as a Torah teacher. He would come to Sokoly in a horse-drawn carriage, as was the custom of the landowners.

The teacher Mottel Shafran learned the watchmaking profession as an adult from a relative of his from Zambrow, and opened a workshop for repairing watches and a shop for electrical items, bicycle parts and sewing supplies in Sokoly. After World War I, Shafran bought a two-story wooden house from the tanner, Chaim Gornostansky, who left at that time for the Land of Israel. Mottel Shafran was one of the most well-established Jews in Sokoly.


Michael and Tzippa Maik
Sitting, from left: Yoel Zvi Konopiati, Kalman Konopiati, Raizel Yaskulka
Standing, from left: Miriam Krushniansky, Zvia Shapira


During the years 1920-1922, when the “Puvshana School” was established in Sokoly for Jewish children, Berel Konopiati (today, Dr. Bernard Kohen, in California) was one of the first teachers of Hebrew. He imbued the souls of the children with the spirit of Zionism. The children learned in a style similar to that of the schools that were established at that time in Poland after it became independent. Berel Konopiati completed his studies at the seminar of Dr. Yehoshua Tahon. In the United States, he completed the studies at the college for Reform rabbis, and he received the title of “Dr. Rabbi.”

There was another famous teacher in Sokoly, by the name of Itzke Levin, the son-in-law of Mendel Bialodvorsky. He taught Hebrew within the framework of religious studies in the public school and in various courses. He was active in the Zionist movement.

After World War I, the Hebrew language teachers taught for an hour or two per day, also in the cheder schools. Among these were Tsimbel, Brustein, and Zatorsky, the son-in-law of Pesach Brill.

Teachers of the Jewish students in the government schools were Shmeltzinger, Roth, Levin and Wasserman. Private Hebrew teachers who worked at certain times in Sokoly were Michael Maik, Neta Zholty, Leibel Bronstein and Chaim Michel Golden. A son of our town served as the principal of the schools of the Jewish community in Warsaw, the pedagogue and author, Professor Rafael Gutman.

The father of Chaim Michel, Berche Golden, an honest and religious man, lived next to the great bet medrash in the market place, opposite the pump. Berche's wife was extremely meticulous about the cleanliness of her house, so much so, that she oppressed her sons and daughters. There were two sons and three daughters in the family. All three of the daughters died of tuberculosis after they grew up, but before they were married. The oldest son, Chaim Michel, the Hebrew teacher, married a woman in Warsaw. They had a daughter who died in her childhood. The second son, Alter, had an only son, who was handsome and pleasant, by the name of Chaim. Alter had an oil press and conducted various businesses in the market. He lived in his parents' house. The mother, Mushele, died during the war and all the rest of the family were murdered in the Holocaust. In Sokoly, Mushele became the symbol of extreme cleanliness.

Michael, the son of Zerach Maik, the private teacher, was educated in the yeshivot. Until he was 18 years old, he learned only Talmud. In the moralist yeshivot, such as Yeshivat Knesset Yisrael in Slobodka, anyone who dared to look into the books of the Zionists was regarded as a heretic. Beginning at the age of 18, Michael obtained a general education in external high school courses. In 1919, Michael Maik married Tzippa, the daughter of Meir Meltz, a well-


Berke Zholty and his wife Chaya Rachel
Berke Zholty and his wife Chaya Rachel


known Tanach teacher in Vilna. Tzippa was the grand-daughter of Rabbi Meir Kaidan of Lithuania. For a few years, Michael gave private lessons and also opened a book shop. From this he supported himself until the war broke out. Michael Maik had an only son, Moshe, who had a technical education and was an electronics expert. Moshe has exceptionally good qualities, and he is loved by everyone. He is always ready to do good for someone. Michael's wife Tzippa was murdered in the Holocaust.


Group of people from Sokoly at the wedding of Tzipora Maik and Yitzchak Chabis
Group of people from Sokoly at the wedding of Tzipora Maik and Yitzchak Chabis


Moshe and Sara Maik with their sons Yossi and Michael
Moshe and Sara Maik with their sons Yossi and Michael


Yaakov and Tzipora Maik, soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces
Yaakov and Tzipora Maik,
soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces


Michael and Tzippa Maik
Michael and Tzippa Maik


Neta, the son of Berka Zholty, belonged to the group of yeshiva students who were known during their time in Sokoly as students of the Breinsk and Lida yeshivot. Among these students were Reuven Lev, the son of Shmuel Leib the shochet, of blessed memory, and Yisrael Elgrod. The three of them learned in Rabbi Reines' yeshiva in Lithuania, where they also acquired a Zionist education. Neta Zholty worked for a time as a private Hebrew teacher. In due course, he made aliya to the Land of Israel, where he succeeded in the building supplies and coal businesses. After a few years he brought his parents and sisters to Israel, and he set them all up financially. His father, Berka, reached the age of 90.


Dov Rachelsky
Oba and Zvi (Leibtsha and Herschel) Zilberstein
Oba and Zvi
(Leibtsha and Herschel) Zilberstein
  Dov Rachelsky


Leibel Bronstein learned in an external school in Vilna, where he obtained a pedagogical education. He was the head of a wonderful group in the HaShomer HaLeumi organization. He organized groups for young girls, Hebrew courses, appointed appropriate counselors for activities and organized cultural work on a high level. He had a lot of energy and unusual devotion. He was blessed with a talent for drawing, art and literature.

In 1937, Bronstein emigrated to Mexico. There, he worked initially as a bookkeeper, but after a short time Leibel became the owner of a factory that made ordinary and artistic leather products, such as wallets, bags and many other things decorated with Mexican art. After the State of Israel was established, Bronstein visited Israel many times. He also took the opportunity to use his trips for making investments in Israel.

Leibel's brother, Pinia [Pinchas], had an outstanding talent for public speaking. Already at his bar mitzvah celebration, everyone was inspired at his discourse, which took half an hour and was enthusiastically given in Hebrew. With pathos and in imitation of an experienced actor, Pinia was happy. He loved to tell jokes and enjoyed being a comedian. He was an active member of Beitar. During the Soviet occupation, he worked as a bookkeeper in a government institution and was sent by the authorities to a bookkeeping course that was held in Minsk. In this way, he was saved from the Germans and remained alive in Russia. After the war, he returned from Russia with a group of refugees to Poland, and from there he travelled to his brother Leibel in Mexico.

And here are a number of men from our town who completed teachers' seminaries:

  1. Leibel Semiaticzki learned in the talmudic seminary in Grodno and became an excellent teacher. He worked in Vilna, Warsaw, Odessa and Tel Aviv.
  2. Rafael son of Herzel Gutman. He wrote textbooks in the Hebrew and Polish languages. He was a pedagogue, professor, and the principal of the Jewish community schools in Warsaw. He was murdered by the Nazis in Bialystok.
  3. Berel Rachelsky, the son of Yaakov Yitchak, completed the teachers' seminary in Vilna. He worked as a teacher in the “Tarbut” school in Lutzk. He, and all the members of his family [except two daughters now living in Israel] were murdered in the Holocaust.


Kindergarten Teachers

  1. Leah'che, the daughter of Zerach Maik
  2. Gittel Leah, the daughter of Shmuel Leib, the shochet
  3. Mushka, the daughter of Shlomo Olsha
  4. Leibcha, the daughter of Leibel Zilberstein
  5. Rivka, the daughter of Moshe Borowitz


Scholars in Sokoly

Meir Halpern was a great scholar of the older generation. About 60 years ago, when there still were taverns and liquor stores owned by Jews, government monopolies were awarded to a number of Jews in Sokoly, among them Meir Halpern, Shlomo Yosef Shenkes, Moshe Meir Berman and the son of the Rabbi, Yisrael Gutman. They dealt in the wholesale liquor trade in Sokoly and the surrounding area.

My grandfather, Leibel [Lejba] Choroszcz, the blacksmith at that period, told me: Yisrael Gutman, who was a serious scholar, busy with public affairs, generous and of good character, hired a Christian waggoner to bring him liquors for his business. The waggoner planned a robbery on one of his trips, knowing that Yisrael Gutman had a significant amount of money in his possession. The waggoner arranged with his partners, the robbers, that they would meet up with the wagon in the middle of the forest and steal all the Jew's money. When they arrived at the intended location in the forest, the robbers attacked Gutman, murdered him and took all his money. Alter Serbrolov, Zalman Yachnes' father-in-law, was travelling in that same wagon. The robbers beat him on the head with a club. Alter collapsed from the hard blow and fainted, and his breathing stopped. The scoundrels thought he was dead; they took all his money and left him there. That is how Alter Serbrolov was rescued from death. After that event, he was known in Sokoly as “Alter the Wise Man.” Others called him, in Polish, nyaduvitik (“half dead”).

One of Meir Halpern's sons-in-law, Chena Gelfan, was a scholar and a big crop merchant. He led a wealthy household. He was the father of two sons, Benjamin and Herzel, and a daughter named Dina. His sons emigrated to America. Hertzel was an excellent student in Leibel Hallelis' cheder, with a sharp mind, even though he was the youngest of the students. The daughter Dina completed high school and married Rafael Gutman. They moved to Warsaw to live, where they were occupied in teaching. Rafael achieved the degree of pedagogic professor, and he was the principal of the Jewish Community of Warsaw schools. The brothers, Rafael and Shammai Gutman, travelled to the Zionist Congresses. After every Congress, they were accustomed to give a report to a general meeting of the members of the Zionist movement in Sokoly.

Another of Meir Halpern's sons-in-law was Neta Yakobson, an educated, scholarly man, an active Zionist and a bookkeeper at the bank in Bialystok. At the meetings, Neta Yakobson would speak without remuneration.

Meir's third son-in-law, Shlomo Rosochatzky, was also an educated scholar. After the death of his father-in-law, Meir Halpern, he inherited his house and business and supported his mother-in-law, Chana Miriam, until the day she died.

Rosachatzky loved to tell jokes, and he also loved to express his opinion on public matters. In the days of the Polish government, Rosachatzky was one of the assistants of the head of the Jewish community in Sokoly, Felek Goldstein, and during the German occupation he was one of the determining authorities among the members of the Judenrat.

Rosachatzky had three daughters and one son named Meir. All were talented. His two oldest daughters, Yenta and Liba, completed their education at the Gymnasia in Vilna. The oldest daughter, Yenta, married her teacher at the Gymnasia, who fell in love with her. The third daughter finished the local public school with excellence. Rosachatzky's only son, Meir, learned in a famous yeshiva and was exceptionally sharp. He also studied books of sermons. After a certain time, Meir Rosachatzky became a rabbi in a Torah community. His students praised him, saying: “After Rabbi Hershel Aharon Yonhas, who was a famous sermonizer, they had other rabbis and sermonizers, but they had never heard such tasteful, knowledgeable sermons, spoken with a mouth producing precious stones like those of Meir Rosachatzky.”

At that time, the famous scholars in Sokoly, as far as I know, were: (1) the famous teacher Leibel Hallels, who was also a rabbinical judge; (2) Moshe Avraham Ginzberg, the Rabbi's son-in-law; (3) the famous sermonizer Hershel Aharon Yonhas; (4) Baruch Tzvi, the publican; (5) Benyamin Rabinowitz, the gemara teacher; (6) Berel Golden, a pure, Heaven-fearing righteous man of sterling character. Another like him was hard to find. He took care not to gossip or speak about others. When he would hear slander about someone, Dov Golden would make a cancelling movement with his hands and say, in Polish, “datsh spokoi.” (7) Reb Shmuel Rogovitz, who was very sharp and learned, as mentioned above; (8) Chena Natan, who was known as a genius in his youth; (9) Itze Meir Golda, the gemara teacher; (10) Yona Czentkovsky, a scholar, intellectual and sermonizer.

Yona Czentkovsky knew Hebrew grammar and was learned in the Bible, a linguist. Besides Hebrew and Yiddish, he knew the Polish, Russian and German languages. For a time, Yona Czentkovsky was a teacher of Hebrew and religious studies. After that, he began to write requests for the Courts and the tax offices, and became an appeals lawyer. He competed with Attorney Lifnovitz. Neither of them had the right to defend in the Courts. They only wrote the requests and the appeals in criminal cases and in matters of inheritance and taxes. Lipnevitz worked for a long time for an attorney. In contrast, Yona Czentkovsky used judicial books for writers of appeals. Yona was a religious intellectual. He prayed three times a day in a minyan and every day after the prayers, he would learn the daf yomi [page of gemara for that day]. He learned for an hour after the morning prayers, and three hours every evening. He also taught a page of gemara to the Gemara Group.

Yona Czentkovsky had the custom of not speaking about daily matters on the Sabbath. If he would be asked something on the Sabbath, he would answer in Hebrew or in sign language. Yona extended his silent prayer (Shmone Esrei) longer than the Rabbi. In doing so, Yona Czentkovsky competed with his brother-in-law, Mordechai Aharon Shustak, the owner of a fabric shop, who also was very religious and took upon himself every stringency of the law according to the Chayei Adam and Shulchan Aruch. Mordechai Aharon also spent a few hours every day in the bet medrash. He had a permanent daily routine for learning Torah, a chapter of mishnayot, a page of gemara, and other holy books. During the Shmone Esrei prayer, the two brothers-in-law, Yona and Mordechai Aharon, competed with each other in lengthening their prayer. Sometimes Mordechai Aharon would be later in stepping the three steps backward at the end of the prayer, and sometimes it would be Yona.

Yona had four sons and two daughters. His sons did not learn in the schools or with private teachers, but in their childhood, their father taught them to pray, chumash with Rashi [commentaries], tanach and a bit of Hebrew. In 1920, Yona's oldest son Itze crossed the border between Poland and Lithuania, where he lived for two years in Kovno, Memel and Irenburg, respectively. Suddenly, the news reached Sokoly that Itze Czentkovsky received a matriculation certificate and had registered at the university. At the same time, Itze was hired as a teacher in a government school. In addition, he was a permanent worker at a Hebrew newspaper and a writer of poems and published articles. When they asked Yona how his oldest son Itze had managed to receive a matriculation certificate and be accepted as a teacher in a government gymnasia in only two years, the father answered that his son had always had the talents of a genius, but was very shy by nature, however, he was a devoted and motivated student.


Aryeh (Leibel) Brill
Aryeh (Leibel) Brill


Yona's second son, Dov, also acquired a set of notebooks that included a complete course of high school studies, which was published by a group of Russian professors. These notebooks were intended for students to learn without assistance from teachers. The students learned in a systematic way according to the directions in the notebooks, and prepared all the exercises. They solved all the problems given them in the notebooks, including subjects such as mathematics, engineering, physics and chemistry. Once a month, the students sent all their written work to the staff of writers for evaluation. Dov Czentkovsky bought these notebooks, used them, and succeeded over a short period of time in gaining a high level of education and in the knowledge of the French and English languages.

Well-known students in Sokoly were Pesach Brill and Zelig Kolodzensky, the shubs, Shmuel Leib and Leibel, Barush the shub's son-in-law, Yaakov Leib Perlowitz, who was the teacher in Klashtzel; Yaakov Leib Goldstein and Mordechai Alter Novak; the brothers Yossi and Yaakov Eliya Sarbrulov, the brothers Yaakov Tzvi and Shalom Yitzchak Segal, and Kalman Yaakov Okune. The famous geniuses of the time were Avraham Yaakov Brill and Yisrael Goldstein, David and Yaakov Finkelstein and Abba Bialodvorsky, Mendel Pachiner, Moshe Lipa Shulmeister, Tzvi Yismach, Yaakov Yanovitz and Yosef Charbonitz.

Pesach Brill was a merchant of imposing appearance, an intelligent scholar. When he would be a bit free from his business, he would set times for learning Torah and would learn a page of gemara in depth, with all the commentaries. He would discuss the Torah lessons in the issues of the gemara with the yeshiva students. Pesach Brill also loved to talk with the intelligent yeshiva students about literature, classics and philosophies. He would quote Achad Ha'Am, Nachum Sokolov, Max Nordau, Jabotinsky and Hillel Zeitlin. He also loved to talk about political matters. Pesach Brill passed away in the prime of his life, at the age of 60 plus.

There was another intelligent scholar in Sokoly, and his name was Zelig Kolodzhensky. He, and his three sons: Yankel, Chananya and Chaim, purchased a large house in Bialystok and turned it into a textile factory. For himself, Zelig bought another large and beautiful house in Sokoly from Yaakov Chaim Sokolovitz. His son Yankel married Ettel, the daughter of Rabbi Avraham Epstein. Zelig Kolodzhensky would lead the morning prayers on the High Holidays in the new bet medresh.


Ettel and Yankel Kolodzhensky and their daughters, Sarah and Edka
Ettel and Yankel Kolodzhensky and their daughters, Sarah and Edka


The shochet, Shmuel Leib, was a sermonizer and an expert in ritual slaughter and inspection. Another shochet was Leibel, Zelig's son, who was skillful and expert. He would read a page of gemara to the Shas study group in the new bet medrash and explain the problems of the Talmud in a simple, understandable way that everyone could easily comprehend.

Yaakov Leib Goldstein, Rabbi Bezalel Atlas' brother-in-law from Vilna, had a first-born son, Felek. He was a good speaker and was familiar with diplomacy. People predicted that he would be a minister in the future government of the Land of Israel. When the Polish government was established in 1918, Felek became the head of the Jewish Community Council in Sokoly and the representative of the Jews with the authorities. All the financial matters of the community were in Palek's hands. The mayor of the town, Dr. Valostowsky, his two secretaries, and others, valued his opinion on many matters. One of his sons was a famous soccer player in Bialystok; the other (Bolek) worked for the Soviets as a head bookkeeper.

During the Soviet occupation, Felek was arrested for spreading Zionist propaganda. He was sent to prison in Bialystok and then was sent to Siberia, where his footsteps disappeared. His wife and two sons were murdered in the Holocaust.

The second son of Rabbi Yaakov Goldstein, Moshe Dov, was also influential in community matters in Sokoly. He was the father of two sons: Aharon and Yitzchak. Yitzchak was active in HaShomer HaLeumi in Sokoly and one of the activists in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, where he was killed. Moshe Dov moved to Warsaw to live with his family, where they received an inheritance after the death of his second wife's father. During the War, their house collapsed as the result of bombing by the Germans, and all the members of the family were buried under its ruins.

To be remembered among the scholars are: the brothers Yossi and Yaakov Elia Sarbrulov, students in the famous Telshe Yeshiva; Yaakov Tzvi and Shalom Yitzchak Segal, the sons of Zundel Segal, who was known as “the genius from Tiktin [Tykocin];” his oldest son, Nachman David, lived in Wyszkow where he learned Torah. Yaakov Tzvi was a publican, and when the Jews' licenses were cancelled he received the position of Rabbi of the city of Zaremby [Zareby Kosciene] and afterwards in Wyszkow. The third son, Shalom Yitzchak Segal, was a rabbi in a town in the Bialystok vicinity and later in Trestiny [Trzcianne].

The brothers Alter and Mordechai Novak were Torah scholars. Alter, first among the students of the Telshe Yeshiva, was killed during the first days of the German invasion. Mordechai learned in the Chafetz Chaim's yeshiva in Radun [Belarus].

In 1917, when the shooting of World War I had not yet stopped, Mordechai was a conductor on the Vilna-Minsk-Libowa-Riga train. While he worked, he dealt in smuggling. In 1923, he suddenly appeared in Sokoly as an educated German, with a fancy briefcase in his hand. He even spoke German, and gave a two-hour lecture in that language. He told his friends that he had completed rabbinical school in Germany and that he served as a rabbi in Frankfurt, where he lectured in the synagogue of the Orthodox Jewish congregation, along with the genius from Sokoly, Avraham Yaakov Brill.

Another scholar in our town was Yisrael, the son of Yitzchak Goldstein. He married a wealthy girl in Bialystok, and afterwards moved with his father-in-law's family to St. Petersburg.

Moshe Lipa Shulmeister learned with dedication. He was a student in the Volozhin Yeshiva. Mendel Pachiner was an outstanding scholar, especially because of his sons the Rabbis Ben Menachem and Avraham Pachiner. The scholar Abba Bialodvorsky learned at first in Czyzew and later, together with me, at the Slobodka Yeshiva in Kovno. Abba had a reputation as being a genius. Once, in a conversation I had with him, he explained that there are some who learn gemara continuously for 10 years, even digging into the commentaries, but they remain ignorant of the Torah itself. And there are others, who do not invest all their energies, but know how to extract the essence of the problem. Abba, and all the members of his family, were killed in Warsaw during the Holocaust.

There was another scholar, Yosef Chervonitz, who owned a fabric store. His son Yechiel married the teacher Morstein, and they emigrated to the U.S. His son Yechezkel taught Jewish subjects in a government school for Jewish children. During the Nazi occupation, Yechezkel was a member of the Judenrat. Of the entire Chervonitz family, only Yechiel Mordechai and Ettel survived.

More yeshiva students:Yismach Tzvi, the son-in-law of Yaakov Petrushka;Yaakov Yanovitz, who also was a member of the Judenrat; the brothers David and Yaakov Finkelstein; Eliezer Patinka; Meir Rosochatzky; Shmuel Rudnik; Zeidel Hirshman; Alter Leo Polak.

The grandfather of the Finkelstein brothers, Tzvi, was one of the wealthy men of Sokoly, but he was known to be a miser. In spite of his great fortune (he was estimated to have 80,000 rubles) he lived with his family on bread and water. He saw luxuries in everything: in clothing, in shoes, in household utensils and the like. His sons, Daniel and Yaakov, learned in a yeshiva. Yaakov also acquired a general education; he knew several languages. He died unmarried at the age of 22. Of the children of Daniel Finkelstein, only his son Yaakov remained alive and now lives in Kfar Ata, in Israel.

Eliezer Patinka was the grandson of the righteous Leibel Dombrover, who had rabbinic ordination. It is told of Rav Leibel Dombrover that his son, David Patinka, was well-established and the owner of a workshop for processing wool in one of the villages, not far from Sokoly, where he lived with his wife Bashka and their five children.

One night, robbers attacked their house.They murdered David, his wife and two of his children. At that time, the rest of the children were visiting relatives and were thus saved from death. The dead were brought to Sokoly, to Chucha Seines' house. Leibel Dombrover stood over the bodies of his dear ones for long hours, swaying back and forth with a broken heart and murmuring, “G-d gave and G-d took. G-d's judgement is just!” The dramatic struggle taking place inside him could be easily seen – the struggle between the natural love for his children and the fear of Heaven and the Creator of the World. A Jew is required to sanctify G-d and fulfill “you shall love HaShem your G-d with all your heart and all your soul,” and should not question the goodness of the attributes of the Holy One, Blessed be He. One must stand up to the test, like our Father Abraham, who was ready to sacrifice his only son Yitzchak. A spirit of holiness, humility and purity hovered on the face of Rav Leibel Dombrover, but in his heart was extreme anguish and great feelings of distress.


A Jewish Mayor in Sokoly

Alter Makovsky, or, as he was known, “Little Alterke,” was a trader of hides before World War I. He had energy and initiative. Pesach Brill would say of him that he deserved to be the minister of trade and industry because of his talents, but unfortunately, he did not get an education.

Even though he did not know other languages, Alterke wished to climb up to the “high windows.” He had access to the heads of the local and area administrations, in the Polish, Russian and even German governments. During World War I, under all circumstances, Little Alterke was the representative and spokesman for all Jewish matters in Sokoly. He applied to the authorities for anyone who needed their assistance, or for the entire community.

Alterke was not accustomed to refuse to fulfill a mission. The heads of the administration trusted him completely as an intelligent and honest Jew. Of course, he did not forget to present an appropriate gift, to the satisfaction of his honored shepherds and the members of their families. Therefore it is no wonder that he was welcomed and met with sympathy by them.

Thanks to Alterke's initiative, the old central bet medrash was rebuilt and modernized with the comforts of the times.

Immediately after World War I, Alterke became the mayor of Sokoly during the German occupation. This was the first and only time that a Jew held the high position of mayor.

As the secretary-general of the town, Alterke chose Yona Czentkovsky, Tuvia Kolkin's son-in-law. Yona was an educated man of the older generation. He was familiar with Tanach [all the books of the Masoretic text] and Hebrew grammar and knew the Polish and Russian languages, as well as a bit of German. For a time, Yona worked as a Hebrew language and religion teacher. After that, he became a writer of appeals, a type of marginal lawyer, until he competed with another marginal lawyer – Lifnovitz.

Both of them were not permitted to defend in the courts, but they sufficed with writing appeals and documents in criminal, inheritance and income tax cases. Lifnowitz had experience after working for a licensed lawyer, compared to Yona, who used judicial books and texts as examples.

Even though Yona was educated and took interest in articles in the daily newspapers, in his home he led a strictly religious life. He prayed in the first minyan three times a day. After the morning prayers, he was accustomed to learn the daily page of gemara for an hour. In the evenings, he spent a few hours in the bet medrash, teaching a page of gemara to the Shas study group.

On the Sabbath, Yona did not speak of daily affairs. If he was asked, he would answer in Hebrew or with a movement of his hands. He would lengthen his Shmone Esrei prayer even longer than the Rabbi himself. He competed with his brother-in-law, Mordechai Aharon Shustak, who owned a fabric store, who was also Tovia's son-in-law. Mordechai Aharon took care to observe the commandments and laws, all according to the Shulchan Aruch and Chayei Adam. He spent a few hours every day in the bet medrash. He set himself a permanent daily schedule to learn a chapter of mishna and page of gemara. He was accustomed to stand half an hour in the Shmone Esrei prayer. This was the competition of the brothers-in-law. One time one of them would finish first, and another time, the other.

Yona had four sons and two daughters.The sons never learned in a school or with private teachers. In their childhood, their father taught them Chumash with Rashi [famous exegesis of the Bible], Tanach and a bit of Hebrew. His oldest son, Itze, crossed the Polish-Lithuanian border and lived for a few years in Kovno.

Suddenly it became known in Sokoly that Itze Czentkovsky had succeeded in acquiring a matriculation certificate in two years and had registered at the university. At that time, he was accepted as a teacher in a high school and as a permanent worker at a Hebrew newspaper. He wrote poetry and publicity articles.

When Yona was asked how it was possible that his son had succeeded in all these things in such a short time, and he wasn't known that way in Sokoly? Yona answered that his son had always known everything, but it had been hidden from everyone.

Yona's second son, Berel, learned the material for matriculation from booklets for external students in the Russian language. He also was outstanding in his education and knowledge of languages. He learned French and English, and at that time he translated Bialik's poem “To the Bird” from Hebrew into Yiddish, while putting the words to a pleasant tune.

After World War I, Alterke received a license from the Polish authorities to manage a guest house and restaurant. In 1929, his large place of business was burned down in the huge fire that raged in Sokoly. Alterke put up a long, wide shed with a large number of rooms, where he reestablished his restaurant. Over time, he succeeded in building a tall, modern and attractive three-story house, with the help of bank loans, thanks to the broad “protectzia” [influence] he had everywhere. He sold the long shed to Berel Krushevsky.


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